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Diary of a Rabbi Blogger

Blogging has become somewhat of a lifestyle for me. Part hobby, part holiness, part habit. Readership is going up, as is the level of recognition from the blogging community.

The Union for Reform Judaism’s Reform Judaism magazine recently included Or Am I?, this blog, in its “Best of the Blogs“, listing 3 top Jewish blogs. And Google’s A Jewish Blog Sampler included Or Am I? in its sampling of blogs.

This month, The Jewish Family Magazine printed my Diary of a Rabbi Blogger (since its not online, I reprint it below):

Diary of a Rabbi Blogger
by Rabbi Paul Kipnes

November 2006: The Birth of Rabbi Blogging
Rabbi blogging began as we prepared to leave on Or Ami’s first Family Trip to Israel. Struggling to bridge the divide between California Jews and our Jewish state, I decided to try out a new technology, the “blog” (a contraction of the term “Web log”). I figured it would allow stateside friends and congregants to track our Israel experiences. Little did I realize just how small this vast world would become. Armed only with the knowledge my 20-something intern passed on in an hour, I played with the medium, reflecting upon current events and the weekly parasha. The experiment soon morphed into Or Am I?, a blog exploring the intersection of the soul, Jewish spirituality and daily living.

December 2006: Holy Blogging!
Blogging our Israel trip provided daily opportunities to find universal meaning in being a Jew in the Holy Land. I spent downtime on the bus reflecting upon each day. Sometimes I would pass the computer to invite participants to jot down their impressions. I would post these impressions and pictures each evening, and each morning I was astounded by how many friends and congregants virtually traveled alongside us. The power of blogs to connect people to experiences and ideas a world away was energizing.

January-June 2007: Sharing Simchas Electronically
I began posting stories and Torah teaching on the blog. I had a modest readership. Then when Brandon Kaplan, a young man who could not read, write or speak became a bar mitzvah, the celebration had to be shared. His masterful signing of Torah, his machine’s vocalization of his d’var Torah speech, and his joyous hugging of Torah bespoke his deep love of Judaism. Guest bloggers gave voice to the nachas (joy) we all schepped (shared). Blogging provided an outlet to publicize our communal simcha and its meta-message: this special-needs child was just like every other kid. People who could not attend the service shared in the celebration. I learned that cross-posting articles in both our eNewsletter and the blog could further expand the circle of celebration.

January 2007: Blogs as eSermons
Although I spent the early part of the year kicking my BlackBerry addiction, I soon found blogging to be addictively spiritual. Whether teaching Torah, kvelling about community news or connecting Jewish values and current events, blogging provided an electronic bimah (stage) for reflection and inspiration. I realized that blogs were sermons for Internet surfers, offering a wider congregation for Torah teaching. When our Reform movement started its own blog (RJ.org) I linked up to a whole community of rabbi bloggers.

July 2007: The Original GodBlog
While I was blogging our experience on faculty at the Reform Movement’s Jewish Summer Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, someone joked that although The Ten Commandments arrived on two tablets of stone, previously our sacred teachings were transmitted wirelessly. They said that originally God spoke, and anyone with rudimentary Wi-Fi adapters (called “ears”) could hear God’s message. If Torah encompassed our mytho-history, stories, values, laws and teachings, perhaps Torah then was God’s original blog, the Holy One’s reflections on birthing and raising the children of Israel.

Chanukah 2008: 8 Blogs for 8 Nights
I got this silly idea to blog each night of the Festival of Lights. We explored Chanukah’s historical basis, social justice imperative, spirituality through mystical contemplation, its lessons about religious freedom, and its modern engaging music. A “you comment and I’ll give tzedakah” contest raised $152 for tzedakah and engaged many people in rudimentary blog conversation. A blog tracking program showed that more than 50 percent of my congregation read the blog and eNewsletter posts. But the pressure of finding something significant to share each night took its toll as blogging took over my vacation. On New Years I resolved to pre-blog next Chanukah, writing some posts ahead of time to relieve the pressure.

January 2009: A Community of Bloggers
As Israel and Hamas moved closer to direction confrontation, I discovered a whole community of bloggers dedicated to exploring Israel, Torah and Judaism online. CNN’s 24/7 news failed to rise to the plethora of perspectives from all across the political and religious spectrum. Whereas Israeli newspapers offered a certain amount of news, the blogsphere exploded with perspectives from soldier’s mothers, on the ground reports every five minutes, Twitter press conferences and perspectives from all across the political spectrum. I soon found myself reading the blogs before the papers, and then creating links on my blogs to informative posts from my new blogfriends.

February 2009: Blog On!
Although we laugh at Al Gore’s “invention of the Internet,” we Jews joke that we were responsible.

One apocryphal story suggests that after digging down 1,000 meters, French scientists found traces of copper and concluded that centuries ago their ancestors had developed a telephone network. Not to be outdone, English scientists dug 2,000 meters down, found thin shards of glass and proclaimed, “The English had advanced high-tech fiber optic digital communications a thousand years earlier than the French.” One week later, Israeli newspapers reported: “After digging as deep as 4,000 meters in a Jerusalem marketplace, archeologists found absolutely nothing. They conclude therefore that 4,000 years ago Jews were already using wireless technology.”

More seriously, Jews have been using the latest technology for generations to transmit our sacred Torah teachings from one generation to another. Some created Jewish newspapers and eZines. Others, like Debbie Friedman and Doug Cotler, used modern music — tapes, CDs and iTunes downloads — to rejuvenate our prayers. Now we have electronic synagogue bulletins, DVDs, Web sites, podcasts, synagogue Facebook pages and rabbi blogs.

What does it all mean? Old wine in new bottles. Community brought closer. Blogging is just Moses on a virtual mountaintop, offering a newer version of Torah’s storytelling and value teaching.

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